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Come Write Me Down


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Family Business

As a result of the great blossoming of the folk revival in the '50s and '60s, you must have been the first generations of the family to be on stage singing to an audience, as opposed to singing with people in a room. How did you find that?

B.C. It was a terrific experience for us. We were very nervous at one time, and we sang much quicker than usual. We did quite a bit of radio broadcasting in the '50s for programmes that weren't just folk music - all manner of things like drama. They used to say "a bit faster, a bit faster, get it moving." I think we're getting it back onto the ground again, which is a good thing to do.

My earliest memories were of it very, very slow, because you're singing entirely for your own enjoyment. Nobody's listening, everybody is singing. But then, of course, when we started - my father and I particularly, and Uncle John and Ron - we did television at Ally Pally for Lomax and so on, and I let my father have his head. He was the boss, and he even started changing the words of the songs where they didn't make sense - we'd always sung them by rote. For instance, in Claudy Banks, there's a verse we're putting back in now, "Like some roaring king of honour, fought in the wars of Troy" - which I think is a marvellous line. But it went "If Johnny he was here this night, he'd keep me from all harm, but he's cruising the wide ocean, in tempest and in storm." And then he's in the field of battle, so when we were doing the broadcasts, the old man said "Well, bugger, he can't be in two places at once, we've got to make our minds up. They not bloody daft out there, you know!" That was his attitude. And he said we couldn't sing "'twas on one summer's morning, all in the month of May", as we always used to sing, and then "this dark and rainy night." "That was a pretty quick day", he'd say, "We'd better sing 'it was on one summer's evening'." He was quite meticulous about it.

But he had a good reason for doing everything, and that proves the point that we all felt rather conscious that people were listening. We hadn't been used to that. We used to say "jerk 'em along a bit", because we'd used to drag them out like anything, nearly always repeat the last two lines of those like Spencer [The Rover] and Claudy [Banks] and Come Write Me Down as a kind of chorus every time, go over the bugger again and savour the harmonies, a bit slower.

This feature first appeared in issue 20 of The Southern Rag (the original title of fRoots) in April 1984.


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